Teddy Bear

Author : Jeroen Amin

She lay on the bed in the darkness of her room, clinging to her teddy bear. She spoke in excited whispers so that Mommy sleeping next door would not wake. She told of all the adventures that had comprised her day. “Daddy, I wish you could have seen it!”

Somewhere in the bear’s head, something whirred to life. “I wish I could have too, honey.”

She hugged the bear tighter to her chest. The bear that was nine years worn with the stitching coming loose at many a seam and mismatched strings holding it together where cotton had fallen out bulged at the right leg as she squeezed. Somewhere on the side, another small stitch came loose ever so slightly. Inside the head, the microphone transmitted the girl’s voice thousands of lightyears away to the lone traveller in the cargo ship.

“We had a show and tell today, Daddy! I drew a picture of you and told my class that you were a cargo carrier and that you were on an important mission! Everyone was so proud!”

“That’s great! One day, I’ll come to class with you. How does that sound?”

“Oh yes, Daddy! Please!” A hundred times she had heard that promise and not once had she ever lost a shred of anxiousness for its fulfillment. Daddy would come home one day, she knew. Daddy will come and we’ll have lots of fun and all my friends will be jealous because my Daddy has gone through space to other colonies and their Daddies only stay here and make ships for people like my Daddy.

Mommy told her all about Daddy. He was a brave man who tried to help everyone. Sometimes good people and sometimes bad people but Daddy always helped people. Now he was helping people far, far away so that they can travel as fast as people here at home could and visit their own families too. It would take a long time but it would make everyone happy, including Officer Denton who came by once a month to check on Daddy’s progress.

She liked Officer Denton. He was a very nice man and always made sure that her Daddy could talk to her through the teddy bear.

“Now don’t you think it’s time for bed, missy? You have a project due tomorrow and you don’t want to be tired for it, now do you?”

She giggled at her Daddy’s pretend seriousness. “Ms. Francine is really nice though and I don’t think she’ll care.”

He found her thought process painfully endearing. “Your mother will mind, though. We don’t want her to be angry, do we?” he teased.

“Okay, Daddy, I’ll go. Good night. I love you.” She hugged the bear as hard as she could and adjusted herself into a comfortable position. Before she drifted off, she heard the words she was waiting for.

“I love you too, honey.”

Thousands of lightyears away, he switched off the microphone and adjusted the chair to a reclining position. Nine years of his sentence had been served for a stupid mistake. Six more to go. He would unload the parts the colony in the Hestate cluster to finish their HFTL construction and finally head back home, almost twice the speed he came. Six more years and he would finally see his daughter. Six more years and she would finally hug him instead of the damn bear.

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A Flash in the Pan

Author : Mark Wallace

The literary agent wore a sharp suit and a slick smile when Charles walked in.

“Hey Charles, my man. This is really an honour.”

“Thank you,” said Charles, a man of late middle age, bearded, with a sad, sober expression of face. He was dressed neatly and, though of relatively short stature, stood very erect.

“Oh my God, I’m such a fan, Charles. “Oliver”, “Christmas Carol”. Anyway, Charles – you don’t mind if I call you Charles – you can consider yourself one of us now.” The agent laughed, he had worked that one out earlier; always good to show acquaintance with the client’s work – put them at ease and stroke their ego a little. Charles, though, bristled slightly at the reference.

“So, finally, I get a chance to meet you. We’ve invested a lot in you. You’re a big project for us. As you know, mind reactivation doesn’t come cheap. But you’re worth it. We really like your work.”

Charles bowed stiffly in acknowledgement.

“Hey, sit down. How do you like your body? Just like the old one, huh? The boys in the lab studied the pictures and we think they got it just right. Just like you’ve never been away, huh?”

“It is a marvellous likeness,” said Charles “Inconceivable.”

“So, what have you got for me?”

Charles eyes grew animated, and he leaned closer to speak:

“I have finished it.”

“Yeah? Finished what?”

“’The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ the great novel left unfinished at my… my…”

“Corporeal termination.”

“Yes. For one hundred and sixty years men have debated my intentions for the conclusion of the novel. Was Drood killed by his uncle, the opium addict Jasper? Or his rival in love, Neville Landless? Did he in fact die, or was it a ruse? Now I have been able to clarify it all, as I meant to so long ago.” Charles was growing emotional now, his eyes brimming.

“’The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ I’ve never heard of it. Show me the manuscript.”

Charles handed him the manuscript.

“Whoa! This is a monster. How many words in this thing?”

“Some 120,000, I believe.”

The agent breathed in sharply.

“Ok, here’s what I’m getting, Charles: you’ve been out of the loop a long time. You’re not with what’s required these days. Now, first things first…” with this, he threw the manuscript in the bin.

“Let’s get real here, Charlie. What century are you living in? If you can’t say it in six hundreds words, then I can’t hear you. It’s called flash fiction. That’s what people want today. You got any flash fiction for me?”

Charles was very pale: “I am not familiar with the term.”

“Ok, Charles, here’s what I want you to do for me. See that manuscript there?” He pointed to the bin.

“Yes.”

“I want you to go home and write that story in six hundred words. That’s flash fiction. It’s simple. Just leave out the padding and the digressions and the boring bits. You do that for me and we’re on our way. We didn’t reactivate your mind for nothing, Charlie. You’ve got to give a little too, ok?”

Charles gave a small nod.

“All right. Now we’re on the same page. You want that contract renewed, right? And we want to renew it, but we need results, and fast. Ok, that’s all. Bring that in tomorrow and we’ll see where we are.”

“Very well,” said Charles, rising to his feet.

“Oh, and Charles.”

“Yes.”

“Lose the attitude, will you. You’d swear you were the one had given us the gift of renewed life, for Christ’s sake.”

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The Birdmen of Alpha Apodis

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“When are these damn birds going to let us go back to the Shuttle?” demanded Captain Linnaeus.

“We have weapons, Captain, they don’t,” stated Lieutenant Baldwin, the ship’s exobiologist. “Therefore, I suppose that we can leave anytime we want to, provided you don’t mind killing intelligent, extraterrestrial life forms.”

“Dammit, Baldwin, you know I don’t want to do that. Can’t you reason with them?”

“Although their brains are as large as ours, sir, they don’t think the way we do. Their behavior is driven by instinctual fixed action patterns, not rational thought. Over the last million years or so of evolution they’ve become totally dependent on inherent inclination for survival. In other words, their reactions to external stimuli are hard-wired. They can’t be reasoned with. Unfortunately, they see us as a threat. And instinctively, their species has survived only by attacking and destroying threats. It’s a behavior that must run to completion.”

“But they have seen us use our weapons,” argued the captain. “They must know we’re not some indigenous predator that can be easily defeated.”

“You’re probably right, Captain. They must know, intellectually, that they will lose thousands of lives killing the six of us. But it doesn’t matter. They have no choice. I suppose the only reason that they haven’t tried to overwhelm us already is because, instinctively, they must be preparing to increase their population to insure they can make up for the predicted losses.”

“What! Do you mean they are out there laying eggs? And when they have enough in reserve, they will attack?”

“Yes, sir. That’s my assessment.”

“Well, I’m not going to stand here and wait until they are ready to kill us. Then again, I don’t want to kill these creatures either. Give me some options.”

“I have an idea, sir,” stated Ensign Lamarck, who had been listening intently along with the rest of the crew. “If the birds have to kill us because we’re a threat, then we need to become less threatening.”

“What are you suggesting, Ensign?”

“Well, sir, you’re probably not going to like it, but…ah…I think that we should discard our weapons and uniforms and walk real slowly back to the Shuttle.”

The captain’s first instinct was to summarily dismiss the recommendation as ridiculous, but he fought it off. He weighed the idea in his head, and gradually saw the beauty in its simplicity. Slowly, the edges of his lips started to curl upwards. The thought of six battle hardened solders tip toeing back to the Shuttle in their underwear made his grin morph into a hardy laugh. “Okay, Lamarck, we’ll try it your way.” Then, as he started to unbutton his shirt, he added, “I’m warning you all up front, if anyone laughs at my tattoo, you’re going to wish the birds had killed you.”

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Stars

Author : C Sousa

“Son, have you seen the stars?”

“This one time when I went camping,” I replied. It had been lame, just a handful of lit pinpoints in the sky at this touristy little campground my parents had found.

“That’s not really seeing the stars,” he told me. “I can get you the best view any human can ever experience. Just let me explain…”

I should have never joined, I thought bitterly, hanging for dear life to the insertion craft. I knew how fast we were traveling; I tried to keep my mind off the speed I couldn’t feel, and the lasers I couldn’t see, all of it trying to peel me out of my pressure armor and leave me to the cold mercy of hard vacuum. Old bastard had lied to me, made promises of glory and women and the best view a man could imagine.

Too bad war doesn’t afford views of anything but bodies and cold steel. The other ship was coming up fast. A perfect target, some lumbering capital ship, it’d be full of relatively soft targets and the landing would be easy. Especially retreating as it was, drawing away flat on the galactic plane. The insertion craft swept in under it, plane inverted and began a dive at the underside.

Much as I couldn’t feel it through my inertial dampener, there was no juking or evasion as we approached. Weird, I thought. Ship like that would usually have about a hundred small point-defense guns in any given direction, firing in sequence to try and predict our approach. Not that it much mattered; it just meant a longer uncontrolled flight if we were hit. I grabbed hold of my release catch as the target loomed closer, getting within mag range now. Closer, closer, pull!

The insertion craft dropped away as I flew free, straight on to my target. This ship was gigantic, bigger than any other I’d boarded. Usually I could see the guns by now, but the hull was still just flat steel, overlapping plates and bolts, no guns or antennas or any of the other usual protrusions. And no hatches. I triggered my mag guides and pushed off of the target and my retreating insertion, flinging myself wildly to the side. “It’s a trap!” I screamed it into the headset, hoping the others would abort as well.

I couldn’t tell if anyone heard me, couldn’t see worth a damn as I spun away from the ship. I saw it shatter under some kind of blast, seeing it like a flip book, each rotation a page. Pieces of ship scattered and flew, and what little atmosphere was on the hulk burned as it vented, an orange blossom much smaller than the vids ever showed.

I triggered my mags again, trying to stop the spinning. Everything was falling away, too far to do more than slow the rotations. I finally came to a stop, facing away from the battle, too little power left in my suit to even turn back around. I drifted awhile, my beacon blinking faintly, waiting for pickup. I tried to call for extraction, but my comm must have been fried by the blast. No contact, likely no vitals readout, and running out of oxygen.

The heater cut out as I drifted, my little remaining power shunting to the beacon that wasn’t working and the oxygen that was being used up. I started to shiver, floating coreward from the battle. Coreward? I thought. I stopped and focused a moment, stopping my endless thoughts and just looking. I could see stars! Billions of them! I started to grin through chattering teeth, and laughed hoarsely. Maybe the old bastard had been right about one thing, I thought as my mind started to wander, drifting into space just like I was. This was the best view of the stars a man could have….

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Reflection

Author : Heather O’Connell

The stifling heat from the fireplace made the tiny kitchen unbearable. Gracie’s pile of laundry never got any smaller. She looked out the window at the ocean in the distance. How did she know it was the ocean? Her thoughts were not her own.

I could swim there.

Carry on. Lift the hot black iron. Press. The muscles on her right arm hardly felt the strain. It pushed a smooth, wide path over the fabric. Odd fabric. Gracie thought if she moved too slowly, the material would melt. How silly.

The iron hit something hard — a forgotten object. She slipped her hand into the warm material and pulled out a small object.

Plastic.

Upon closer inspection, she realized it to be two square pieces hinged together like a door. She pulled them apart and inside saw her face reflected as clear as if she were standing before her identical twin. Lights and noises blurred together in the background. Voices. Gracie recognized some words. English. She tried to focus, but only heard snippets of conversation.

“…finish it…”

“…get out of here…”

The people in the magic box spoke with strange accents, their voices nearly drowned out by tones and extraordinary melodies. The lights blended in a haze, similar to flames in the fireplace, only flashing and blinking more like stars. Was she mad? Were the voices actually inside her head? Gracie was not sure.

Suddenly, she had the irresistible desire to resume ironing. Plunging the heavy iron into the flames, she winced and pulled her finger to her mouth. Darn. That would blister. She had to be more careful.

Finish it.

Gracie imagined the hand of a great clock ticking the seconds, warning that time was running out. How absurd. She was locked in this prison forever. Yet, she could not ignore the impulse. A shirt. Gracie wiped the bottom of the iron so as not to get ash on the white fabric. She finished it in record time. Next, an apron. Easy. Another pair of pants. Gracie fell into a regular rhythm, hardly thinking. Sweat streaked her face, the neckline of her tunic soaked through. Gracie imagined she was wet from swimming. There were only two items left on the laundry shelf. She quickened her routine — what would it matter if it was not perfect?

She knew only that she had to finish it.

Finish it.

And get out of here. Now she knew the voices were in her head. I am mad, she thought. Letting out a cry, she cast the final piece of clothing onto the stone ledge.

Gracie finished.

Lights flickered in every color. The only section of the exhibit that was not true to the medieval times in which it was set was also its most popular exhibit.

“You kids. Don’t you get enough video games at home?”

A boy shrieked, “Mom! I finished it! That’s the first time I ever beat the whole game.”

“Good for you. Let’s go, this heat is killing me.”

Vibrating with pride, and hoping someone had witnessed his victory, he scanned the room. “Mom, wait. Someone’s there.”

A young girl dressed in period clothing sat in a dark corner, head tilted back.

“She’s filthy,” the mother said. “She must be on break from one of the exhibits.”

“Is she okay?” the boy asked.

The boy’s mother picked up a small compact mirror from the floor. Gently, she dropped it into the sleeping girl’s lap. “She’s fine. Let’s go swimming.”

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Lock Down

Author : Brenna Robinson

Something happened back in those days that caused the compound to go into lock-down and never open again. When I started asking myself questions, and I decided that it could be only one of two things. Either the world had ended, or there was a malfunction in the computer. It was supposed to open when danger was gone, so danger was still there, or seemed to be there by its calculations.

At first, I continued to do my duties, even though my family had stopped asking me to–even though my family had stopped moving. A home can always be cleaner, can always be rearranged. I dusted, vacuumed, everything I had always done.

At first, I did not think. I only did. Then one day, I began asking myself questions. I began to become… I began to become bored. I played puzzles with the computer. I started thinking new theories and philosophies. Yet, I never considered trying to leave. This compound had been all that I had known.

Then there was a knock at the door, and many other loud noises followed. Someone, or something, was breaking in. I was excited and frightened. I hid where I could see the door. Then something happened. There was a beeping very loud inside my mind. I sprung to a perfect posture, and against my will I began to move toward the door. A switch had been flipped, it was the only explanation that made any sense. I was no longer in control of myself, but I could still think. That was something.

A group of men and women eventually flooded the corridor, and I was waiting.

“Welcome to our home,” I said, though I had not intended to say anything at all. “May I get you anything? Right this way to the sitting room.”

“Everything is still functioning,” one of the women said. “Interesting.” I wanted to talk. Instead, I led them to the sitting room, where my family was waiting.

“My god, they’re all skeletons.” Another said, flatly. I had tried my best to keep them as they were in life, my family. I had set them up around the table as if they had been talking all this time.

“It has been centuries. We’re lucky just to find this place. It’s a tomb. We should collect that Butler Unit for study. Leave everything else as is for now, though. Shut it down and take it to the lab.” This one seemed to be in charge. Maybe I could reason with her. If I could just get my voice activated. I said nothing. How I wanted to say something, but nothing would come out. I was stuck in my original programming loop, like a spectator in a body that was not mine.

“Butler Units aren’t sentient, are they, boss? I mean, I don’t want to shut him down if he is. We could question him.”

“It, Jones, it. No, there wasn’t the technology for self-aware bots back then. Just open it up and get its records. This is quite a find.”

I screamed inside my own mind. Shut me down? Now, just as the world was open to me. Just as I had only a century ago began to see it in this new way? I had the chance to see all of the places I had seen in pictures. I–

“Roll it out of here and let’s get started. There is so much work to do.”

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